HE led the first trips for tour behemoth Contiki into new nations including New Zealand and the United States, but Gus Maher is now turning his attention to helping Newcastle tourism take the next step.
The Hunter Valley Events doyen, 63, has stepped in as the Newcastle Tourism Industry Group’s general manager, and says the next five years will be pivotal in bringing the city’s new tools for tourism online.
“It’s not like Newcastle is trying to find itself,” Mr Maher said. “Newcastle has indeed found itself from a tourism and visitor economy perspective.”
“I think at the moment we are recognised for a whole lot of diverse things that can add up to a very large sum.
“I think our diversity is already there.”
Mr Maher pointed to a boom in infrastructure as a guide to the city’s next steps, including the mooted beginning of international flights out of Williamtown.
“The cruise terminal will open soon and that’s from a period of hard work in the last five years,” he said.
“If you look at where the airport was 10 years ago, we are in an unbelievable space now. What we’ve got to do in the next five is capitalise on all of it.”
Mr Maher said he saw the next stage as broadening the city’s definition of tourism to fully value visitors drawn here for medical appointments, education and business travel as well as visiting friends and relatives.
In turn, he said that would increase literacy about exactly what served as a drawcard for each breed of traveller.
“The first thing I’d like to do is better engage the local industry and have everyone who benefits from the broadness of the visitor economy understand that and work as a team to promote the city,” he said.
“I’d like everyone to know it’s not just about camera-toting international visitors, it’s anyone who comes here.”
Mr Maher described Supercars as an “easy” tourism win but flagged plans to talk with traders whose trade was down, suggesting a food truck alley as a way to offset lost foot traffic.
“Now we know what [Supercars weekend] looks like, let’s redraw the picture a little bit,” he said.